One of the more interesting points in Guns, Germs, and Steel is Diamond’s claim that people in Papua New Guinea (PNG) “are probably genetically superior to Westerners”: p21. More quotes: “Natural selection for intelligence has probably been far more ruthless in New Guinea than in more densely populated, politically complex societies”. p21. ‘ Modern “Stone Age” peoples are on the average probably more intelligent, not less intelligent, than industrialized peoples. Certainly is no hint at all of any intellectual disadvantage of New Guineans that might serve to answer Yali’s question. p21’
Now this crap is not really essential to Diamond’s overall thesis – that biogeographical factors are completely responsible for different levels of cultural development, rather than (even in part) average differences in population characteristics like personality or cognition. In fact he’s getting in his own way here, stepping on his own dick: if local selective pressures could make hunter-gatherers smarter than Chinese or Jews – then they might also make Chinese or Jews smarter than hunter-gatherers. Arguing for one people’s innate intellectual advantage over others is generally frowned upon – for political/social reasons, not scientific ones – but it’s ok if A. it’s not pro-European-specialness ( pro-Korean would simply leave people confused) or B. nobody takes it seriously.
I’d say that the reaction is some A, but more B. A goodly fraction of people reading GGS simply expel these claims from their memory as confusing and indigestible, and if asked say that Diamond said no such thing. I’ve seen this, repeatedly. Some came away with the impression that he was saying that Stone-Age people are better at what they do, better adapted to their particular life-style – but that’s not what he said. It’s irrelevant anyway – what matters are abilities useful in the modern industrial world, not ones that no longer pay off. Fracking, not tracking.
Even Diamond doesn’t take it seriously: or, at minimum, doesn’t understand the implications of his claim. He’s saying that Papuans are noticeably smarter than industrialized populations, obviously so. (although apparently not obvious to anyone else on earth – I’ve never seen anyone else make this claim.) I say that you couldn’t possibly notice a 1 or 2 pt average advantage in average IQ from personal observation. 5 pts, maybe: but really, to be so striking, something more like a 10 pt difference, minimum. A moderate difference in average trait value causes a huge change in the fraction that exceeds a high cutoff: if the PNG edge were 10 pts, then the fraction of people with IQs > 148 (3 standard deviations above average) would be much, much higher in PNG than in Britain or the US – something like 7 times higher. if this were the case, PNG, population 7 million, would have as approximately as many potential Nobel-level intellects as Great Britain. If anyone believed this, they’d be searching PNG (inch by inch) for those diamonds in the rough. That hasn’t happened. Nobody takes the implications seriously, or maybe they don’t see them. Or, maybe, they think that Diamond is sucking up to his hosts – the Fore are the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful humans beings he’s ever known in his life.
Diamond’s argument is general, not just about PNG. He says that peoples who were hunter-gatherers until recently are probably smarter. Yet in no case does reality actually conform to his hypothesis. In every case, people with such backgrounds do poorly in in conventional schooling, often very poorly.